I chose what college I was going to attend during my junior year of high school, a year before I even submitted my application. This is because the Office of Disability Services was/is very welcoming and answered all of my questions. This was true no matter how silly or how complex the questions were. They were fantastic about helping me create a disability services file. They have a dedicated staff member that handles all the low vision/blindness cases. The staff member knew exactly what accommodations I needed and what to ask for. I am incredibly lucky to have so many resources available to me, and I was excited to be part of this university.
IEPs expire the moment the student graduates from high school. It’s important to meet with Disability Services before school starts to ensure that the student continues to receive services in college. Most of the accommodations listed in an IEP can continue to be used if the student adds them in their Disability Services file. One thing that does transfer to college is 504 plans, though you still will need to create a file to receive services, so they have a way of tracking who receives what accommodations and why. It is highly recommended that you convert your IEP to a 504 plan before you graduate, something I did right before graduation. Here is how to create a Disability Services file with your school. This also applies to students attending community/junior colleges, though the plan might not transfer when the student moves.
I investigated what services were available to me before I applied to the school. While visiting other colleges, I planned my visits around interviewing staff members from the Disability Services offices in a one on one setting, spending thirty minutes or more at each interview. If your accommodations will not be met, this is not the school for you.
The important thing for the student is to be proactive, not reactive, and that is also true for the Disabilities Services office. Some colleges won’t help you until you are in trouble, and it’s better to avoid the problem than to have to figure out how to solve it later. Don’t wait until there is a problem in a class to open a Disability Services file. I opened mine while I was still in high school after I had received my acceptance letter and committed to attending in the fall.
Get notes from your doctor prior to the Disability Services intake meeting
If you bring a doctor’s certification that you have a disability, you can set up the file at your first meeting with Disability Services. Usually you can find the forms the doctor needs to fill out on the school Disability Services website. My school required a recent ophthalmologist report, which I brought with me. Some schools may also require a physical, but mine did not.
Bring all documents you think might be important
I met with Disability Services in April to set up my file for the fall. I brought in my current IEP, my prior 504 plan from eighth grade (since I wasn’t converting to a 504 until the last day of high school), and documents from my ophthalmologist that described my diagnosis.
Here are other helpful files to bring:
- Department of Blind and Visually Impaired case files
- Assistive technology evaluations
- Orientation and mobility files
- Occupational therapy assessments
- Medical diagnosis from other doctors (i.e neurologist)
All of my papers were in a giant binder so I could easily reference them during the meeting. I recommend getting a rolling backpack to carry everything around.
Know what accommodations you need the most in your Disability Services file
For me, having access to my assistive technology devices, receiving digital copies of assignments, and preferential seating were the most important accommodations. I made sure those were the first I mentioned to Disability Services. Other accommodations in my file include:
- Time and a half on tests
- Extended time on assignments when requested
- Copies of notes
- Using a word processor for written assignments
- Large print on handouts
- The ability to attend class remotely if needed
Once I was on campus and worked with Disability Services, I added additional accommodations, such as noting that I would be using a blindness cane, which came after a professor seemed very confused that I was signed up for a graphic design class and holding a blindness cane.
Ask if your school has a disability testing center
My school has a multiroom lab where students are able to take their tests in a quiet environment with their assistive technologies. I had to fill out a separate form for these accommodations. I receive the following accommodations:
- Time and a half on tests
- A laptop with ZoomText and JAWS
- Use of a video magnifier or CCTV
- Reduced light
- Use of a word processor
- Access to a large print calculator.
An accommodation made available to everyone is the use of earplugs during tests. A white noise machine is also provided. This testing center is invaluable to students with a range of disabilities, not just sensory ones.
Ask about other services for students registered with Disability Services
My school offers a writing center for students with disabilities who need extra help. I have not needed it, but students who struggle with writing have greatly benefited from these services. There are also individual student groups for students with disabilities that I highly recommend checking out. This provides a sense of community for students with disabilities is highly beneficial.
Request special housing, if needed
The sooner you request this, the better! Housing arrangements tend to fill up quickly.
My freshman year, I lived in a single room adjacent to the resident advisor’s room. I could reach the resident advisor quickly if there was a problem.
My sophomore year, I lived in a handicapped accessible apartment (on campus) with my own bedroom. I was able to navigate easily around the apartment and get to classes quickly.
My current housing arrangement is once again a single room adjacent to the resident advisor’s room. It was much easier to get this housing arrangement, since apartments tend to be very popular.
In order to get special housing, my primary care doctor had to fill out a form to certify my disability. This was in addition to the form to certify me for Disability Services. This is not listed as an accommodation on my faculty contact sheet, only Disability Services can see this information.
Get a referral to the assistive technology specialist or department
At my school the Assistive Technology department is different than Disability Services, though it still requires a disability services file. By receiving a referral, you can access services such as enlarged textbooks, assistive technologies, computer labs with built in accessibility software, and more. This is the most important department for me because while Disability Services can identify a problem, Assistive Technology solves it.
Make sure your Disability Services file is ready for the first day of classes
Get copies of your accommodations sheet (which Disability Services will provide) as soon as possible to pass out to professors, and know how to explain the accommodations as well. Be sure all your testing accommodations are set before the first exam. Don’t wait until you fail to set yourself up with the tools you need to succeed.